Power Poll: Rethink Redistricting

December 20, 2019 10:00am
By Bruce Dobie

Community leaders in Tennessee's four largest cities want less politics and more equity in drawing congressional districts

A statewide Power Poll survey shows significant concern with how the General Assembly draws congressional districts. Power Poll members also voice high levels of support for making voting registration easier and not much confidence in the Legislature protecting the state's election system from hacking.

These survey results—taken from Power Poll members in Knoxville, Memphis, Chattanooga, and Nashville—show an underlying lack of confidence with the Republican-controlled General Assembly where so much of the state's election apparatus is overseen, built, and organized.

Here are the specific answers to the survey questions.


A total of 444 Memphis Power Poll members were surveyed, with 81 responding, meaning 18% of the Power Poll membership voted. In all four cities, 584 of 1,791 members responded, for a 33 percent response rate. As we have stated numerous times, the Power Poll is not a scientific poll. It is, instead, an extraordinary look at what the people who lead and influence local decision-making are thinking. All results are anonymous. To see the Memphis Power Poll member list, click here.

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This survey probed three issues, to wit:

1. Congressional Redistricting

We refer here to the redrawing of Tennessee's nine congressional districts, which must take place after the 2020 U.S. Census is taken and the results are published. The districts will be drawn by the Republican-dominated General Assembly.

In the state of Tennessee, Republicans have seven congressional seats; Democrats have two—in Memphis and Nashville. In the next redistricting Democrats fear the worst, which is this: Republicans in the Legislature could divide Nashville into four or five pieces, with each slice composed of 150,000 to 200,000 Nashvillians. The current 5th congressional district, long held by Democrat Jim Cooper, would virtually vanish and blend into other reconfigured districts where Republicans would hold a majority. Nashville would no longer have its own congressman, and Republicans would then have eight seats in the U.S. House of Representatives from Tennessee as opposed to the current seven.

Clearly, according to the Power Poll, overwhelming majorities in the Big Four cities—which, to be fair, are more Democratic-leaning than the state as a whole—do not like the idea of new congressional maps being redrawn in a backroom, which is historically how redistricting map sausage has been made. Members support the idea of being able to make their comments known as redistricting is done. One idea long discussed—and adopted by some other states—would involve the creation of a bipartisan redistricting commission that would be responsible for drawing the new map.


2. Making Voter Registration Easier

In some states, when a person goes to get a driver's license or when they interact in other ways with their state government, voter registration is encouraged and made easy. At these state agencies, individuals' information is used to complete voter registration applications (unless they "opt out," or state they do not want to register).

Clearly, as seen in the Power Poll results, everyone likes this idea.

However, we're talking elections and the partisan overtones are ever-present. Republicans have traditionally taken the position that increasing voter registration will tend to increase those who vote Democratic. Historically, in Tennessee, the Secretary of State's office has been wary of efforts to boost voter participation, having recently pushed through the General Assembly a new state voter registration law that places restrictions on groups involved in voter registration drives. Our Secretary of State, Tre Hargett, whose office oversees elections, is a Republican. The new voter registration law, which required voter registration groups to receive state training or risk jail time, and which would also fine them for submitting inaccurate registration forms, was to take effect Oct. 1 but was blocked by a federal judge and remains in limbo until a February 2021 hearing.


3. Election Security

Is there a Russian in my voting booth?

Everyone is concerned about election security, although many national Republicans—particularly our President—have appeared to downplay the concern.

Two questions in the survey probed Power Poll members about election security.

First, 32% of Memphis Power Poll members were either "very confident" or "somewhat confident" that the voting system in Tennessee is secure from hacking and other technological threats. 56% said they were either "not too confident" or "not at all confident" that the system is secure.

Second, 23% of Memphis Power Poll members were either "very confident" or "somewhat confident" that the General Assembly is making serious efforts to prevent hacking and other threats. But 64% were "not too confident" or "not at all confident" in the General Assembly taking steps to guarantee voting security.



Political races are won and lost in the election booth, and from that moment forward our two major political parties then proceed to introduce their agendas and policies. No other single act—that being the moment when a voter walks into a voting booth and expresses his or her desire for how we organize the very fabric of our lives—is more fundamental to the organization of participatory democracy.

Power Poll members do not appear confident in our General Assembly's willingness to safeguard this bedrock element of governance. The stakes are immense and will only grow as the new Census numbers are published.

To hear Power Poll members talk on the issue is to hear them voice a lack of confidence in voting security and express support for greater ease of voter registration. They also want to shine a light into the darkness of how the new Congressional districts are to be redrawn.

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